The Cleveland Browns could empathize with the plight that the 2016-17 West Holmes Knights were going through this winter.
The Browns were sitting on 0-14 until a late–season victory got them off the schneid.
The Knights came out of the gate this year at 0-15, and that winless feeling that can drag a team down as it lingers and festers only makes winning that much harder.
However, just like the Browns, the Knights were able to show some guts and, after traveling to Mansfield Friday, January 20 to face the Mansfield Tygers, the Knights experienced something that they hadn’t felt all season long — a 60-53 victory.
Bus rides home are always a lot more enjoyable following a victory, but for a team stuck on zero wins this late in the season, that particular ride home from Mansfield was certainly reason to celebrate, the trip being one of relief as much as joy for the Knights.
“It was nice waking up Saturday with a win under our belts,” said head coach Keith Troyer. “The kids really enjoyed this win, and the bus ride home was fun. At the same time, they realize we have a lot more basketball to play, but it was fun to finally celebrate.”
West Holmes and Mansfield Senior battled back-and-forth all evening as they tried to gain a stronghold. The Knights got off to a great start at 18-12 through one quarter, the Tygers clawing back to within 25-24 at the half.
West Holmes would again forge ahead by six at the end of three quarters, only to see the Tygers bounce back and trim the deficit to one late in the fourth. Senior then forged ahead by a pair, before the Knights played perhaps their best ball of the year, and they were led by a freshman.
Chance Wells buried a 3-pointer to help West Holmes regain the lead, then led them down the homestretch, scoring a game-high 19 points. Blaine Hager added 14 for the Knights, Chase Wells chipped in with 10 and Connor Roach added seven.
For a team that hasn’t won a game, the Knights showed a great deal of poise down the stretch, making their free throws and getting some key stops on the defensive end to put this one in the win column. Chase Wells canned four free throws and both Chance Wells and Blain Hager made a pair to keep the Tygers at bay.
“The great thing about this game was that it was a total team effort,” Troyer said. “Chance and Blain have been playing some really good ball the last few games, and they both played well. Connor (Roach) really came to play. He scored seven points and he was a beast on both ends. I thought Chase really made good decisions all night long, and Trenton (Bridenthal) didn’t score a single point, but he came up big with his rebounding and assists. Shane Jones gave us big minutes off the bench and Josh Goudy did a nice job on the defensive end in the paint. It was just a nice team win.”
Troyer has said all season long that this team hasn’t stopped trying; hasn’t stopped giving effort. He said he felt like the Knights were on the verge of finally getting a victory, and the one thing that has prevented that has been the inability to put together four solid quarters. In this one, the Knights got about as close as they have all winter in doing that.
“We have had some close games this season where we simply haven’t been able to finish, games against some pretty good teams,” Troyer said. “We were making bad decisions and turning the ball over. That has started to change, and we have been playing smarter lately. Even against (undefeated) Wooster the game before, we lost by 21 but I thought we really did some good things. I think in this one, our kids just weren’t going to lose.”
Troyer said he couldn’t remember the last time the Knights had gone to Senior and drove home with a win. He said it hasn’t been during his tenure, so that made it even better.
“We had them down seven with less than two minutes to play two years ago and then we couldn’t get the ball over half court,” Troyer said with a chuckle. “I’m glad we were able to avoid that this time around.”
Will the victory help the Knights the rest of the way? Troyer thinks it will, in several ways. He said it should help them relax more knowing that zero is now gone, and it should give them some added confidence as they march through the final third of their regular season and into the tournament.
“It’s never easy, but we have competed, and we have done a better job of that as of late,” Troyer said of his Knights. “I definitely think this gives us a boost of confidence. And I look back at this season, and I know a lot of people will look at our record and see the one win, but people don’t always recognize the smaller wins that come throughout a season. Those small victories are starting to show up in the way we are playing, and if we take care of the ball more will come. There are victories outside of wins, and those are important for the growth and learning how to compete for four quarters, the way the game is supposed to be played.”